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One of the most exciting days of Spring Training is that first day where the entire team (or “full-squad”) takes the field to truly start getting things ready for Opening Day in just over a month. Hitters get to take live batting practice off of the pitchers Friday and have five full workouts before the spring opener against the Nationals on Wednesday in Port Charlotte. While not everyone will be able to participate on the field, injured players like outfielder Steven Souza Jr still get a chance to take live BP in the cages.
Souza Jr said Friday in the clubhouse he looks forward to facing Chris Archer and start working his way back to the field.
“You don’t want to miss any time,” Souza Jr said. “If this were a week before Opening Day, I’d be extremely frustrated.”
2015 team MVP, Logan Forsythe, was anxious to get on the field and get to work.
“It’s an exciting day. Full locker room. Everyone is excited to get started. Everyone is just trying to get their feet under them.”
After an early morning spent stretching and loosening up – the first live batting practices began all around Charlotte Sports Park with fans gathering at the multiple fields hoping to catch sight of their favorite players. Chris Archer was one of the first on the mound Friday to face Evan Longoria, Tim Beckham, and Kevin Kiermaier with a rather large crowd gathered to watch.
After a quiet first at bat by Longoria, Beckham followed with a home run to deep left-center off Archer to which all coaches and players in attendance cheered and applauded as Beckham flipped his bat and celebrated. Archer said later that Beckham had called his shot via a text earlier Friday morning.
“He actually text me at 5:00 AM and said you better come with it today because I’m going deep.” Archer chuckled.
Soon after Archer’s day was done, it was time for the reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Blake Snell, to take the mound and the young lefty impressed Archer, who was behind him on the mound watching closely.
“He seems to be great,” Archer said. “He really doesn’t have much to work on. Really he just needs big league experience. He’s extremely confident. That’s the final piece of the puzzle.”
With his second Spring Training as a manager underway, Kevin Cash spoke about the feeling in 2016 compared to how he felt when he walked into Charlotte Sports Park last February for the first time.
“I was a lot nervous last year,” Cash said. “This year, still the same nerves and anxiety. I think if you lose that you’re probably doing the wrong thing. You’re always going to have your jitters.”
With all the new additions to the outfield, reigning Gold Glove winner, Kevin Kiermaier had glowing things to say about his new teammates.
“We got athletes out there,” Kiermaier said. “We just let our athletic ability take over. It’s nice playing with guys to the left and right of you like that. Makes life a lot easier. We just feed off our athleticism as a group and we feed off each other.”
Evan Longoria said it’s “tough to say” about the makeup of the team this early on.
“I know that we’ve added some great players,” said the Rays two-time Gold Glove winner. “Seems like everybody, their personalities match. There’s a lot of time left. We gotta get to know each other and with 200-plus days together we have the chance to do that.
One of those new faces, Steve Pearce, showed his versatility during infield drills. Pearce, a former Oriole 1B/OF, took some ground balls at third and second base Friday and looked very solid.
There’s no telling who rounds out the final 25-man roster once Opening Day comes around. With the exception of the usual suspects, the field is wide open for new faces as well as young, up and coming prospects to make an impact and potentially break camp to face the Blue Jays at the Trop on April 3rd.
After the first full-squad workouts ended and players, coaches, and yes, even us media folk scrambled around the food truck for some lunch, one couldn’t help but feel the positive vibes all around Charlotte Sports Park on Friday. With the first game action just days away it’s exciting to see who’s going to step up and crack the big league roster over the next few weeks.
Stay tuned as The Scrum Sports will have full coverage all spring long leading up to Opening Day!
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